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How to Cope with Social Distancing

The recent coronavirus outbreak leaves many teens out of school, so here are a few ways to stay connected.

The last two weeks in August is the calm before the inevitable storm — the uneasy feeling of tranquility you feel right before the whirlwind of stress, emotions and academics hit you. That’s when September comes in. September is when the wind begins to pick up, and if you’re on the road, turn on your headlights. You become more aware of your surroundings and take caution. School is here and you smell it, but luckily the storm hasn’t quite hit yet. Then comes October. Your heat starts to sputter and you turn on your windshield wipers. As you squint to see past the buckets of rain pounding your dashboard you begin to lose confidence and pull over. November, December and January have arrived. Dialing your mother’s number to pick you up, you hear the rain in a completely new way. This isn’t the same noise that frightened you earlier, is it? You listen, but can you hear the music of the rain in school?

Unfortunately, I hadn’t appreciated the delicate music playing faintly in the background until it was gone. Silence. The structure of school, deadlines, the crowded hallways and even the jammed lockers, if perhaps only for a week, was gone. But, one week in a time such as ours, when we aren’t permitted so much as to see our friends in any vicinity is mentally debilitating, even with online school attempting to fill the void. However, I’m lucky enough to attend a school with a dedicated guidance department and initiative friends who have helped me develop a list of ways to survive the week. So, for those in the same boat as me, here are my top recommendations:

First, remember that social distancing and quarantine is just physical separation. We might not be able to see our friends in person, but that most certainly does not, by any means, mean that we shouldn’t be reaching out to our friends to talk or ‘hang out.’  Apps such as FaceTime and WhatsApp were created for a reason. As Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, the rabbi of B’nai David-Judea, a Modern Orthodox congregation in Los Angeles, stresses, “Every hand that we don’t shake must become a phone call that we place. Every embrace that we avoid must become a verbal expression of warmth and concern. Every inch and every foot that we physically place between ourselves and another must become a thought as to how we might be of help to that other, should the need arise.” The coronavirus is not the only pandemic for which we are at risk— loneliness is too—and the only way to combat it is to fill the gap. Don’t put your relationships on hold, your friends are only a call away.

Next, make a schedule. You may be tempted to leisurely wake-up, go to sleep at three o’clock in the morning and waste the time in between, but trust me, the novelty will wear off quickly. Maintaining a routine will prevent you from feeling unproductive throughout the day. Perhaps make a schedule. Break up your day into “classes” similar to the ones you have in school. That isn’t to say that you need to be learning chemistry at 9:31 on the dot, but a structured day helps you establish priorities, limit procrastination and keep track of goals. It also lowers your reliance on willpower and motivation, because of the mindset your schedule creates. Free time to relax can be great, but only in moderation.

That being said though, what to fill your schedule with can also be a struggle within itself. Falling prey to the perpetual list of suddenly urgent must-see movies on Netflix now that you have the time can produce a condition often referred to as “cabin fever.” As previously suggested, take advantage of the fact that many of your friends are also in the same situation, but there are so many other things you can do to keep yourself busy as well. Perhaps today will be the day when you finally tackle that long list of projects you’ve been waiting for the time to do. Also, although as unfortunate as it is that many libraries have closed in communities that have mandated self-quarantine or social distancing, Amazon and Kindles have a myriad of novels waiting for you, take advantage of it. Or, keep yourself occupied by learning to cook and bake (if only the abridged seminary version), play Chopped with your family. And take a walk. 

This brings me to my last point, a healthy body and mind come hand in hand. You don’t need to be a gym rat to begin to feel the effects of wandering the same few rooms on your body. It is imperative to your mental health that you open your eyes to nature. For those fortunate enough to be allowed to walk outside, do just that. Take a long walk. You can cross the street when you see someone coming, but the pavement won’t give you Coronavirus. For those who aren’t allowed outdoors, open a window. The fresh air alone will do wonders. You need stimulation and nature is the key. I’ve mentioned this before, but coronavirus is not the only pandemic we face today. The looming threat is not what we may contract, but we will create. The absences we will create in the coming weeks is the threat, but our mindset is the solution.

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Ora Gutfreund is a sophomore at Ma'ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck, N.J. She is a Staff Writer for Fresh Ink for Teens.

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